Over the past few months, this publication has been graced by a number of articles of the highest quality on Irish Catholicism. These articles, such as the one on Paul Cullen, illustrate in a beautiful manner the great philosophical and theological traditions of the Church in Ireland, making the case, both directly and indirectly, for the continued involvement of the faith in Ireland’s future.

To be honest, this has annoyed me greatly.

You see, I’m what you’d call a pagan. I’m not particularly happy with that label for a wide variety of reasons, chief among them is that, unlike Catholics, Irish Pagans, for the most part, seem utterly unable to engage with philosophy or theology in any meaningful way.

Intellectual Paganism, Modern and Historic:

This is not a trait inherent to polytheistic religions, living or otherwise. Both Hinduism and Shinto have libraries worth of philosophical and theological theory, a lot of which underpins the very existence of Indian and Japanese national identity respectively.

Looking closer to home, the tradition is just as prestigious. Perhaps the two greatest thinkers of all time, Plato and Aristotle were both clearly pagans, with perhaps Plato in particular leaning heavily into some of the more mysterious elements of European spiritual tradition with his characterizations of Socrates and Diotima.

In the postmodern world, European paganism has made leaps and bounds towards regaining the intellectual complexity and respectability that it held two thousand years before, mainly thanks to the work of pagans affiliated with the right. 

Of particular note is Thomas Rowsell, who this publication has been lucky enough to interview. Rowsell’s work has consistently been exceptional, demonstrating a scholarly understanding of genetics, history, geography and pagan theology. What’s more, Rowsell packages his knowledge into videos of immense quality in regards to both script and cinematography. 

As such, his videos have garnered millions of views online, earning him a significant degree of recognition across the right worldwide. Rowsell has proven himself to be a filmmaker of far greater insight and integrity than those commonly found in the mainstream of the BBC or RTÉ. 

Historically, Irish polytheism too had great links to the intellectual. The druids, the in/famous religious leaders of Ireland, were frequently described as both natural and moral philosophers by Greek and Roman sources. Certain historians, such as Peter Berresford Ellis even ascribe Greek Pythagoreanism to Ancient Celtic religion, claiming that Pythagoras himself was instructed in philosophy by druids, and as a result shared a similar belief in reincarnation.

Of the more contemporary disciples of the Irish intellectual tradition regarding spirituality, W. B. Yeats is no doubt the most famous. Yeats over his many years worked tirelessly with occult spirituality, his practice and theory remaining constantly embedded in Irish tradition, and is responsible for preserving a great amount of Irish folklore through his work. Yeats wrote extensively on occult metaphysics in an attempt to ultimately understand the very nature of reality, compiling what was ultimately his own spiritual system in his book, A Vision. His occult work intertwined quite heavily with both his poetry and his politics, with his rightist, occultist views being best summarized in the poem The Second Coming, the short story Rosa Alchemica, and his preface to Ezra Pound’s Certain Noble Plays of Japan.

The Reign of Cat-Lady Paganism

So why, with paganism clearly containing within it the potential for great intellectual discussion and debate, does contemporary Irish paganism so sorely lack it? For some bizarre reason, this spiritual tradition, so intrinsically tied to philosophical inquiry, has given way almost completely to what can only be called cat-lady paganism. 

Unlike the tradition that has come before it, cat-lady paganism has no respect for intellectual inquiry of any kind, especially if it could prove a belief right or wrong. Instead, ‘personal experience’, along with hierarchies of oppression, are championed above truth. 

Let me assure you, trying to engage a cat-lady pagan in a philosophical or theological discussion is like trying to teach a brick to swim. Within cat-lady paganism, there is no room for intellectual engagement, especially if one attempts to make reference to the works of philosophers outside Irish paganism (so, any philosopher whose writings have survived to this day). It is due to the influence of this tradition (if you could even call it that) that Irish paganism right now is nothing more than a farce.

The most prominent spokesperson of this new sect, as far as I can see, is Lora O’Brien. Co-founder of the ‘Irish Pagan School’, O’Brien’s work seems to revolve around selling an intellectually bereft version of Irish spirituality to a mostly American audience. As such, there is a distinct, ‘intersectional’ tint to it that has no basis in Irish tradition, cultural or theological. Recurring notions within O’Brien’s work includes the idea that equality is a core value of the Irish as well as their Irish spiritual tradition, and that the Irish “ALWAYS held kinship with the minorities, the downtrodden, the immigrants, the unwanted, the pillaged, the ethnically cleansed (sic).”

On the face of it, these notions are, of course, utterly farcical. Firstly, Irish pagan society was organized around a caste system with a very strict hierarchy, something common to a wide variety of Indo-European societies before Christianity. The claim that the Irish always had an idea of human equality, let alone always valued it, is nothing short of historically illiterate.

Even more comical is the idea that the Irish always side with migrants, minorities and other victimized outgroups. The Mythological Cycle, which O’Brien often cites, can only really be read as a warning against immigration, as tribes are consistently crushed by the next wave of ‘new Irish’. This theme of xenophobia is crystalized with the character of Bres, a biracial king whose corrupt nature is solely due to his Fomorian heritage, as opposed to his beauty and talent, which arises from his Tuatha Dé blood. How progressive. 

What’s more, the recorded actions of the deity O’Brien herself is ‘dedicated’ to also contradicts her claims. The Morrigan, a deity O’Brien seems to claim is a champion of equality and minority rights, is herself complicit in the ethnic cleansing of not one, but two separate ethnic groups. What’s more, it seems that the mythology itself credits her for orchestrating the second of these genocides, which was against the aforementioned Fomorians. Truly a champion of migrant rights.

Aside from these doctrinal failings, there is something fundamentally off-putting about O’Brien’s ministry. Unlike the vast majority of religious leaders, who provide their work free of charge and instead survive off of donations, O’Brien locks a lot of her content behind a paywall, and a steep one at that. 

For example, the majority of the courses available on the Irish Pagan School site cost around €20, with the most expensive being an eye-watering €75. Perhaps these are being sold in good faith, and O’Brien believes that these courses are worth the price of admission, but, at least for me, I cannot shake the scent of grift that wafts from this style of practice. The fact that the product seems to be mostly consumed by Americans doesn’t exactly help this impression. 

To be clear, I’m not saying that the practice of selling one’s knowledge is dishonest in itself, but that it does not lend credibility to Irish Pagan tradition as a whole in the same way free ministry would.

Despite all these negative aspects, this modern form of cat-lady paganism has become the most prominent form within Ireland. As such, for someone who detests these negative aspects, and does not want to be associated with this sect, it can be beyond frustrating when I am forcibly grouped in with it. Whenever I get into a discussion on religion with a friend, Catholic or otherwise, I will inevitably have to spend the first hour distancing myself from this sort of carry on.

But, as I said before, it doesn’t have to be this way. While O’Brien and co. are the most prominent Irish pagans around, there thankfully are a few dissenters. 

A Way Forward

While sadly not based on this island, Youtuber Fortress of Lugh has put out a significant amount of content from a pagan perspective that is both philosophically and historically literate. Unfortunately, his following isn’t exactly large at the moment, but hopefully it will soon see the increase that he deserves for his hard work.

Then there’s Thomas Sheridan. While far from classical in regards to his approach to paganism, Sheridan is most certainly not a cat-lady pagan. An author who cut his teeth writing about psychopathy, Sheridan now focuses on making videos broadly about ancient spirituality, but which frequently branch into comedy, literature, film and politics, and is never afraid of airing a new idea or dissenting opinion.

While most certainly an acquired taste, the Sligo based creator is nevertheless surprisingly influential on the Irish right. More and more, I find myself coming across people actively involved in parties, publications and individual activism that describe themselves as fans of the polymath. Most of these people cite Sheridan’s unique and valuable perspective as the thing that keeps them watching his content. Quite frankly, I myself don’t believe it’s possible to know the meaning of a hot take before watching one of Sheridan’s videos.

Probably the best example of this was his Velocity of Now podcast published after the abortion referendum. The ideas that Sheridan formulates, whether one agrees with them or not, will always leave the listener with an understanding of a topic that they did not have before. This is because Sheridan has an almost otherworldly ability to shift your perspective on a given topic. Such an ability has proven invaluable for many, including myself. He’s definitely worth a follow on his various social media sites. He also has no time for bullshit, which I can very much respect.

Unfortunately though, the likes of these men are not the face of Irish paganism. As of now, that position is taken up by the cat-lady pagans, and their system of beliefs simply is not the kind of thing you could rest a nation on. While Catholics can boast of a faith proven to uphold nations, rightist pagans must contend with a self-serving sense of ‘spirituality’ that undermines their own positions. 

The truth is, Irish paganism right now is a farce, and until this modern, anti-philosophical sect is dispossessed from its prominent position, it will remain that way.

Posted by Daithí O'Duibhne

12 Comments

  1. Wonderful article on Irish paganism called ‘The Irish Pachemama’ in Culture Wars https://culturewars.com/volumes-31-40/cw-39-2

    Reply

  2. Interesting read, Perhaps the author himself should spearhead an online Irish pagan university and undercut the cat lady…? Certainly preChristian Irish folklore and religious custom needs to be rescued. Of course I don’t think one has to be a literal pagan to appreciate these things.

    I’d like to correct the author though, Aristotle and Plato certainly moved to monotheism through their philosphising. The unmoved mover and the uncaused cause is God singular, the Creator. In a way because they didn’t have the concept of the Trinity, the Greeks had a secondary “demiurge” who came up with the laws of the universe. Jones discusses this in Logos Rising. But to say Aristotle and Plato were Pagans in the vein of Homer or the Irish Druids is misleading.

    Also while Yeats certainly had an affection for Irish mythology and druids etc. I’m not sure you can quite claim him in your unironic pagan camp.

    Reply

    1. Daithí O'Duibhne 21/09/2020 at 9:41 pm

      Hey Gus,

      Few things I want to mention in response to your comment:

      I didn’t really get the chance to discuss why I dislike the term pagan, but you’ve brought it up right there. The term is more often used to refer to non-Abrahamic religions, which are often polytheistic, but not always. Being a polytheist isn’t necessary for someone to be pagan. This is one of the reasons I think it’s a poor term, let alone the cringy connotations.

      To expand, this means that Yeats, Plato and Aristotle were most certainly all pagans. Yeats’ metaphysical theory revolved around the unity of truth in religion, emphasizing elements such as the Gyre and the Spiritus Mundi, which are not Abrahamic concepts. Plato and Aristotle, even if they did float the idea of a single creator, did so outside the Abrahamic tradition, which also makes them pagan.

      However, the idea that either Plato or Aristotle were monotheists in any way is simply not true. Plato specifically goes to great length in the Phaedrus to affirm his belief in the Greek gods, describing the uncaused cause as you call it, which is the Form of the Good, as something beyond even the gods. This conception of the Form of the Good being god though is a Christian interpretation brought about much later by Christian Neoplatonists, and later Aquinas. However, for Plato, it would be much more like the Dao, or the Brahman in Hinduism. The Form of the Good is not a thinking, acting being like a god, but simply the ultimate perfection.

      Lastly, you’re mistaken in your belief that the Trinity comes from Christianity. Examining the Abrahamic religion, it is very clear that the notion of Trinitarianism is an outlier amongst the religions, with Islam and Judaism both being strictly monotheistic, the former outright denying Trinitarianism in its own theology. However, the concept of a tripartite deity was very common in pre-christian religion all across the western world. Deities like Hekate, the Fates, and Ireland’s Morrigan all had tripartite elements to them, with the Morrigan’s perhaps being the most pronounced in the literature. With this understood, many historians and anthropologists have concluded that Trinitarianism in Christianity is a remnant of European pagan tradition, and not the other way around.

      As for spearheading a Pagan university, I don’t think emulating the cat-ladies is a good idea! I think I’ll stick with the articles for now and see how that goes first!

      Reply

      1. Very good. Keep writing! Just don’t start sacrificing animals and infants.

        Thanks for the clarification regarding the Greeks. I stand corrected. (Although I think you can’t claim Aristotle)The point I’m trying to make is that the Catholic does not reject the pre-Christian truths, as the scholastics or John the evangelist demonstrate, but rather reject the idolatry and sacrifices. So the dogmas and the rituals go away but the customs and philosophies can get blended in. Like the Celtic cross or Brigids cross. Or the Christmas tree. Christ is truth, so all that is good and true is a part of him. Certainly we can keep and embrace the legends of Irish mythology and polytheism as cultural and national treasures while maintaining Catholicism IMO.

        I think your points about tripartite deities and symbolism demonstrate the truth of the Trinity. Clearly three in geometry and numerology is highly significant. People’s all over the world noticed something special about the number. But trinitarian monotheism is distinctly Christian and sourced by the Revelation of the Incarnation. In a way you could argue it comes from converting the Greeks because John uses theos and logos and Aletheia to describe god and Christ who are one, and it was mostly the church fathers trying to understand the gospel of John as well as Christ’s commandment to baptize in the name of the trinity which led to the doctrine of The Holy Trinity.

        Curious: what sort of rituals and liturgies do you envision if Ireland becomes polytheistic? How will you appease the Gods? What will replace the sacrifice of the Catholic mass?

        Reply

  3. dt no sleep actually tired atm go to bed durty animal 22/09/2020 at 1:28 am

    just a comment on religion… if it was a truth of reality you would not need to be told it.
    Therefore i hope nobody converts to paganism for instance because of tribal appreciation of their ancestors from 5000 bc.
    If any of ye do, its more like a uniform than an actual authentic belief.
    I presume youd have to see either a male / female supernatural deity in the forces of nature and destiny,
    and this without being told it.
    IF you dont think its necessary to have this inherent belief in these beings, and think its acceptable that in order to know you need to be informed (by the internet)…
    then how were your ancestors told it? Where did the belief begin?
    Its a uniform lads, same as fanatical catholicism now is among some of us who want ready made reasons to resist the destruction of the traditional family and gender roles.
    They want a philosophical social weapon,
    I doubt they actually want the actual thing they identify as.. I doubt that very much. VERY MUCH.
    But now that nationalists have claimed these things as things that differentiate us from the foreign ( which is false btw)
    then I suppose ye just want your weapons and ready made moral system for your own group cohesion and internal conformity.

    That is how truth and philosophy gets thrown out the window.
    When people transform everything about themselves in a subconsciously superficial psychological clothing of underlying agenda which is to promote their tribe (which is de facto promoting themselves as an individual )
    The ends dont justify the means, and a bit rich to see it from people who sometimes use the term “selling your soul”.
    Bit of projection inspires the words me guess.
    Me not know. But me psyche is pathologically and invincibly cynical.

    Reply

    1. >Therefore i hope nobody converts to paganism for instance because of tribal appreciation of their ancestors from 5000 bc. If any of ye do, its more like a uniform than an actual authentic belief. I presume youd have to see either a male / female supernatural deity in the forces of nature and destiny, and this without being told it.

      This is a completely Christian-centric notion of religion that simply does not map onto religion in general as it exists throughout the rest of the world. Belief is fundamentally not important for most religions, with it instead being practice that matters. In Hinduism, Judaism, Shinto and a wide variety of other practices, whether the practitioner actually believes what they are doing is irrelevant, as long as they practice correctly. This makes sense when you consider how physical reality seems ambivalent to our beliefs, and will act in the same way in response to certain actions whether we believe those actions will evoke such a response or not. To make the claim that someone must have a belief to practice a religion simply does not reflect the reality of religion across a wide variety of cultures throughout history.

      As for the idea that many people are just looking for a ‘philosophical social weapon’, I find it better to take people at there word when the advocate for a certain view, and only question it when we have very good reason to do so. Perhaps there are a number of people who are merely larping as Catholics, but the vast majority that I have met have been genuine in their beliefs.

      Reply

  4. In ancient Rome a person maintained both a public and private religion. One could publicly take part in the Imperial cult, but in private retain a completely alternate set of beliefs.

    The Christians used this to great effect – and even Jesus recommended this form of ‘Christian taqiya’ in the Gospels – “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s “.

    Religious duality has always existed in the West, particularly in Catholicism where the individual’s relationship to saints and prayers for the deceased are just a variation of age-old ancestor worship. It might benefit us to once again look at religion in this way.

    Most of all I don’t think we should get hung up in deep ‘structuralist’ ideas about religion or society. It’s a waste of time. Tom Sheridan, like Keith Woods, takes the Marxist approach – talking about ‘institutional power’ and the ‘Abrahamic vs pagan’ structure of belief. In order to have success we need to undermine the present structure – or so they say.

    Any pragmatist worth his salt knows that the ‘structure of society’ never determined it’s future course. All cultures, religions, histories, and political frameworks are shaped by the forces of leadership dynamics. Whether Imperial Germany or Aboriginal Australia, all are operated upon by the same human qualities of skill, personality, reason, and reward.

    We must look to the great thinkers/leaders of our past to see it in action – Abraham to Cicero, Machiavelli, Napoleon to Giovanni Gentile. Institutions are like so much paper under the bullet of human quality. Their tendency is to follow its trajectory.

    Nowadays the public religion is that of the ‘virtual man’, or Woke culture on one hand – and the concrete morality of old Ireland on the other – is private. The most skilled leaders or groups will practice both at the same time. As Integralists (we’re against Marxism/capitalism?) it’s our aim to unite both worlds in something new, or at least reverse their positions.

    Reply

  5. Zyanya O'Neill 09/01/2021 at 8:24 pm

    Your article is on point. I’m actually interested in what they’re doing at Clannada na Gadelica, which is REAL Gaelic Traditionalism, based on studying and intellectualism; they’re strongly against anything related to cat-lady paganism. However, I’ve been unable to contact anyone from that movement; I’m not sure if it has died out already or not, after over 25 years. I’d love to pick up the torch, if possible.

    Reply

  6. Colm McDermott 22/02/2021 at 6:35 pm

    Had a wee search for ‘Irish Paganism’ on the ‘The Oracle’. Not only did I find this fantastic article, I also discovered The Burkean. There’s hope for this country yet. Best wishes from an old pagan in Connemara. Keep up the open minded discussions and if anyone wants to know what ‘real paganism’ is, well, its all in your head and all around you if you have an unfettered imagination that can be reigned in if needs must. May you never attract the attention of the Gods. Its most likely because you’ve pissed them off. For the most part they care not a jot for your honorings and your libations. Thats directly from my imagination by they way. Thats all we’ve got. I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the Cat Lady though.

    Quick story before I go off and make my tea. As an archaeology student I once visited the Carrowkeel tombs in Sligo. Inside one of them was an American lady holding a crystal telling an Irish man how the tombs would have been used by the ‘Celts’. I bit my tongue. He was onto a sure thing and I didn’t want to spoil it for him.

    Reply

  7. I was recently booted from the Facebook group solely for asking, in earnest, if there was an injunction in the folkloric sources, for offering a blessing unbidden. The community is completely against free inquiry and will not abide any talk of philosophies or religions that are not Irish in origin. Certainly a disheartening situation but I am glad they showed their true colors before I got in too deep.

    Reply

  8. Recently I’ve been doing research into Irish Paganism and Irish Witchcraft and I’m glad to have come across an article by a pagan that discusses the online presence with Irish Pagan School.
    I’m glad that there’s some discussion about better sources and different ideas about the whole thing.

    A few things did jump out to me though and maybe here’s where philosophy kicks in-

    What’s wrong with trying to take a dying religion and making it as progressive as the people in it?
    Isn’t this how it’s staying relevant and being adapted into modern homes.
    God in Catholicism flooded the Earth and killed everyone but Noah and his ark but no one thinks of that when they pray to him. It doesn’t make the religious believes any more or less authentic.

    Isn’t it a good thing that IPS is spreading information about old Irish texts?
    I didn’t know about most of the resources or texts before I came across their work and while I’ve not bought a course from them I have bought texts that they suggested such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge.
    IPS endorses the work of Irish Authors and the Irish language. Isn’t this also a good thing?
    Side note- How else would Lora O’Brien and her family support themselves if they didn’t charge for the work?

    Is the fact that Americans are the main audience for IPS not a commentary on how Irish people are so far removed from their heritage?
    For years as an Irish person I’ve found myself detached from religion and from my heritage. I’ve sat on the Hill of Tara as a teenager wondering what really happened and found myself longing for a pantheon that was similar to Greek mythology. Without these modern resources I would never have found it. I agree that there’s a lack of alternative schools of thought in Irish Paganism but maybe that’s for lack of other people stepping up than for IPS having a monopoly.

    I appreciate that you’ve shared more resources on Paganism but I think it would be worth noting that the tone above is struck with a very “cat-lady bad, thinking man good” vibe. I think it would be useful to point out that youtubers like “Bealtaine Cottage” and “Danu’s Irish Herb Garden” are women who, to me, exemplify what paganism and Irish culture was and still can be.
    Though I still have a lot more to learn and will probably never finish researching.

    Just a final note, I’m not for or against IPS. I just acknowledge it’s place in modern Irish Paganism. Though, the Facebook groups were a bit intense in my opinion and alternative forums are harder to find.
    I look forward to reading more articles on The Burkean! Happy to have my braincells doing a bit of exercise. GRMA

    Reply

  9. Rarely have I read an article where almost every paragraph screams “citation needed.”

    Firstly, the writer claims without evidence that O’Brien is the “spokesperson of this new sect”. As someone who has taken a couple FREE courses, I can assure you she claims to be no such thing.

    Secondly the writer conflates a statement from O’Brien about modern progressive Irish attitudes with the attitudes of historical Irish pagans. O’Brien clearly writes in replies to questions about culture that,

    “Everybody has ancestors who were violent, who were part of a violent system that stole land and resources from other of your ancestors. That is humanity’s history, and there’s NONE of us with perfect pure innocent and blameless family lines. ”

    Nonetheless, the author mines this vein of “straw woke pagan cat lady” for a couple hundred words, without citation, leaving the impression that he has an ax to grind with the political left and anyone saying we should treat people decently, and O’Brien is just a convenient target.

    Thirdly(+), the writer expresses shock that O’Brien is charging €20 to €75 for courses.

    Oh that poor summer child. Those prices are dead cheap and a fraction of the HUNDREDS of dollars/pounds many New Age gurus will charge for similar course work. If he was a pagan, involved in the community, he would know this. He’s written the figleaf, “Perhaps these are being sold in good faith,” to avoid liability, but he has no evidence they could be in bad faith, and certainly no evidence of a Grand Grift Afoot.

    The sad thing is there is legitimate criticism of anti-intellectual, free-for-all paganism to be made. (O’Brien even discusses the subject in a video. ) But, alas, the writer is too busy fighting straw cat lady pagans to notice that:

    a) O’Brien is not the problem. In fact she’s quite level headed. And because of that, she is generally unknown to the American pagan community, who tends to prefer the airy-fairy content of Llewellyn publications.

    b) his own assertions are full of contradiction:

    He claims to opine for the lack of modern pagan philosophy, but his main criticisms are almost exclusively about his bad understanding of O’Brien’s politics/scholarship. (Yes, she seems to be part of a modern progressive left Irish politics, but at no point have I read or heard her assert ANCIENT Irish Pagans held these exact views).

    What is the author saying? Because ancient Irish peoples had a ‘rigid’ caste system(a bit of an exaggeration, they had a clan system with limited mobility, but nothing like the caste systems of China or India), that if we don’t adopt these values, modern Irish pagans are doing it wrong? The entire train of thought is a non-sequetor. (<Mo leithscéal. Tá beagán Gaeilge agam ach níl mórán Fraincis agam)

    It's as if this article was just an excuse to give out about the women and politics that dominate a subculture he feels should rightly be dominated by his philosophy….

    The irony being that the writer clearly sees himself as a rational intellectual not given to flights of fancy like those "pagan cat-ladies".

    (PS: I do not share DD views, but I do think Pagan Cat Lady was quite clever and amusing. It's a pity it wasn't applied in an analysis with actual depth.)

    Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *